October 23, 2012

President Obama: The Wrong Kind of Christian

My memory for such things is rather poor, but it seems to me that the mainstream media in the U.S. has wasted more ink dissecting President Obama's religious beliefs than any other leader I can remember. They are still talking about it, even though we are getting closer by the day to electing the first Mormon president. Given some of the things Mormons believe, one would think that would be the big news story. But no, apparently we need to continue struggling to understand Obama's faith.

Writing for CNN.com, John Blake notes that some Christians consider President Obama to be the "wrong" kind of Christian. I'm sure this is true. Christian extremists probably will not recognize him as one of their own. And while I know at least a few Christians here in Mississippi who are still convinced that the president is a Muslim, most will acknowledge that the president at least "might be a Christian."

Blake writes:
Historians may remember Obama as the nation’s first black president, but he’s also a religious pioneer. He’s not only changed people’s perception of who can be president, some scholars and pastors say, but he’s also expanding the definition of who can be a Christian by challenging the religious right’s domination of the national stage.
Really? Wouldn't this be true for any president who was not an evangelical fundamentalist? Is what President Obama has done in this regard really that different from what President Carter did? It seems like both tried to model a Christianity that was more in tune with the Jesus figure described in the Christian bible than the American Jesus many Christian extremists worship today.

Blake quotes Jim Wallis, a fairly progressive Christian, as suggesting that President Obama has used his faith in a very different way than most on the right.
“Barack Obama has referred to his faith more times than most presidents ever have, but for many it’s the wrong kind of faith,” says Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners, an evangelical activist group based in Washington that focuses on poverty and social justice issues.

“It is not the faith of the religious right. It’s about things that they don’t talk about. It’s about how the Bible is full of God’s clear instruction to care for the poor.”
That is an interesting point. As much faith as President Obama has infused in his presidency, it has not appeased the religious right because it is not their kind of faith. That makes sense.

I guess I just have not seen President Obama as being all that different in terms of policy than his predecessor, despite their different takes on the Christian bible. Clearly, President Obama talks about a different sort of Christianity than did President Bush. We're still at war, Guantanamo is still open, environmental regulations are still inadequate, Wall Street was bailed out while the working American was largely ignored, faith is still being promoted by the federal government, the White House is still in bed with corporate America, and so on. President Obama may talk a different game than many conservative Christians, but the gap narrows considerably when it comes to how he has governed.

I do not care all that much about a president's personal religious beliefs. What I care about is whether a president is truly committed to keeping them out of his or her policy decisions and governing like the leader of the secular democracy we are. In this respect, President Obama has not been all that different from President Bush, and this has been a disappointment.

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